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Why 2020 was just the beginning for collaboration

(Image credit: Image Credit: / Pixabay)

2020 was a big year for the collaboration market. That may sound like an understatement, given how collaboration platforms became essential in order for organizations to operate remotely through pandemic-induced lockdowns. And yet I believe the market is still just at the beginning of its journey.

It’s worth looking back to see how far collaboration software has come. Ten years ago, email was the primary form of communication, both internally and externally. Employees sent numerous emails daily, clogging up bandwidth and keeping IT teams constantly on their toes due to the threat of breach and cybercrime, two areas where email was (and still is) the perfect conduit. Back in 2010, collaboration tools like Slack were making gains in the workplace but weren’t yet widely recognized or used, while video software such as Skype was a consumer product, not something commonly used for business.

Fast-forward to today, and the workplace has changed considerably. Even before the pandemic mandated us to work from home, companies were starting to incorporate remote and flexible working into their business practices and permitting employees to work from anywhere, not just inside the office.

As work has evolved, so has the way staff communicate with one another. Modern workplaces have moved away from email and towards tools that offer instant, dynamic forms of communication and collaboration. Instead of emailing a colleague, you can send them a message in real-time. Furthermore, meetings and presentations can now be done virtually and instantly.

Just to emphasize these underlying trends, there have also been landmark developments in the collaboration market in recent months: the software giant Salesforce acquired Slack in a deal worth nearly $28 billion, while the CEO of Zoom (the share price of which has skyrocketed over the past year) predicted that future users will be able to feel their hands being shaken and smell the virtual coffee.

Likely changes

But the collaboration market is only just getting started. Its maturity is only in the early stages and is set to take off much further in the next three years. This is because, following the pandemic and the permanent changes being made to workplace strategy, enterprises are re-evaluating their use of collaboration tools to ensure that their workforces can continue to work securely, wherever they are working from.

Given all this, what changes are we likely to see in the future, in terms of the way people work and how collaboration tools are used? 

One change we are beginning to see is a switch from large scale video calls to smaller groups where more meaningful meetings can happen. At the onset of the pandemic, many enterprises embraced video calls with dozens, if not hundreds of participants. But as employees prioritize flexibility and productivity, and experience higher levels of online fatigue, the functionality of these all-hands calls will diminish. Instead, people will prefer highly-focused video groups and breakout rooms centered around efficiency, specific goals and collaborative interactions.

Another change will be a switch of focus towards cyber security. The threat from hacking, data breaches and cybercrime is rising: a report in 2020 revealed that 15 billion stolen logins are now available for purchase on the dark web, while Europol has warned of an upward trend in cyberattacks in the past year due to criminals exploiting the pandemic in order to target vulnerable people. Clearly, there is a need for more stringent security across all sectors.

The trend of collaboration tools replacing email is helping, as email has for so long been the weak link in cybersecurity for both on-premise and remote working teams. In fact, in our recent report, we found that the chances of an employee spotting a phishing email is as slim as hitting a specific number on the roulette wheel. That’s a massive gamble to take when dealing with your company’s most valuable assets.

Protecting data

But while collaboration tools are less porous than email in terms of cybercrime, they equally need vigilant fortification against hacking. The potential for damage is high: if insecure data practices persist, cyber breach costs are slated to hit double-digit growth across all industries. Unless corporations, government agencies and nation states figure out how to mitigate these cyber risks, the global community will suffer catastrophic economic losses that will take years to rectify.

Unfortunately, many of the current mainstream collaboration tools do not have sufficient security features to ensure watertight security, confidentiality and privacy of data, because they operate exclusively on the “global” or public cloud. The challenge with the public cloud is that it runs across a distributed infrastructure and providers tend to store data in technically and commercially practical locations. The dispersed nature of the cloud leaves some businesses with several concerns: How can they be assured of the privacy of their data? Where is their data stored? And who ensures the sovereignty of their data? Them or their cloud partner?

This issue has been compounded by enterprise data breaches and incidences of data misuse in 2020. For instance, allegations have been brought against Salesforce and Oracle that they broke GDPR regulations by tracking and using personal data without consent. Though the pair vigorously reject these accusations, the incident has highlighted the issue of data sovereignty.

As such, companies are starting to take measures to protect their data. Firms are now selecting collaboration tools that offer end-to-end encryption, which is the best option to protect a company’s valuable digital assets and proprietary data.

Many tech vendors have only just started to incorporate some form of end-to-end encryption in their solutions this year — primarily as a knee jerk response to the rise of remote work, and customer demand for greater privacy and security. But by the end of next year, I predict companies will expect and incorporate end-to-end encryption across all tools used to communicate and collaborate with coworkers, prospects, customers and all external stakeholders. The drive for this will come directly from CEOs and non-security executives, as personal liability for cybersecurity incidents reaches an all-time high.

If the collaboration market responds to these demands for data sovereignty, privacy, and security, it is likely to expand rapidly. Businesses will also benefit, as this technology will bring faster, more efficient ways of working, and the workplace will continue to evolve. It’s difficult to predict what “work” will look like by 2030, but it’s likely that organizations will be doing all they can to protect their most important — and most vulnerable — asset: data.

Morten Brøgger, CEO, Wire (opens in new tab)